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Report: Students See College as a 'Bad Deal' During Pandemic

The longer the pandemic lasts, the more students question the value of a college education. A December survey by New America and Third Way found that nearly three in five college students (57 percent) agreed with the sentiment that higher education was no longer "worth the cost," a bump up from 49 percent in a previous survey in August. Among high school seniors, however, that sentiment was on the decline: While August's survey found that seven in 10 students questioned college's importance, by December, that had dropped to 57 percent.

Among the high schoolers in the December survey, half also said that college was "a bad deal now that it has moved online." More than three-quarters (77 percent) stated that the pandemic had made them change plans when it came to applying for college, such applying closer to home (cited by 31 percent of respondents), applying to schools with lower tuition (29 percent) and applying to schools with "clear COVID protocols" to keep students safe (26 percent).

The December survey, part of an ongoing series conducted by Global Strategy Group, polled 1,008 college students nationwide and 207 high school seniors. The college student mix included 165 Black students and 112 Hispanic/Latinx students.

A solid 80 percent of respondents said they were concerned about "getting any type of job" once they graduated, in spite of the fact, noted the researchers, that the unemployment rate had ticked down to 6.7 percent as of December 2020. Seventy percent said they were worried about getting a full- or part-time job in the next few months. Thirty percent of overall respondents said they had concerns about keeping their current jobs, due to the coronavirus; that was 49 percent among Hispanic/Latinx students.

The survey asked students what would make them more or less likely to enroll or re-enroll in their institutions. The big winner was offering discounted tuition for students who can't attend courses in person, chosen by 76 percent of survey participants. Next up: demonstrating positive employment outcomes for students through job placement rates or average wages (69 percent); promising refunds on room and board if the dorms were to close mid-semester (65 percent); and providing significant testing for the virus, as well as contact tracing and personal protective equipment on campus (63 percent).

The project also found that just two-thirds of students overall (68 percent) would get a vaccine if their colleges required them to do so to be back on campus. However, for Black students, that dropped to 49 percent, with 19 percent saying they were not sure. Among Hispanic/Latinx students, 74 percent said they would get a vaccine; and 70 percent of high school seniors said the same.

A report sharing some of the findings is openly available on the Third Way website, as are topline results.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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